Grapes of Croatia: The Internationals

By Cliff Rames © 2012

Got Chardonnay?

Chardonnay

As a matter of fact, yes – you can find the variety growing all over Croatia. Heck, even the mother grape of chardonnay is Croatian, a little devil of a grape called štajerska belina – or gouais blanc – that long ago made its way to France where it crossed with pinot and sired chardonnay.

While quality is uneven, delicious chardonnay wines are produced across Croatia –  from Istria along the coast (called the “Tuscany of Croatia” by the New York Times), to the amphitheater-shaped hills of Plešivica in the northern continental region and the Miocene Epoch-dated Pannonian Sea soils of Kutjevo in Slavonia.

(photo © 2012 by Cliff Rames)

Krauthaker’s Rosenberg 100% chardonnay is sublime; while Kutjevo winery’s 2009 Chardonnay de Gotho Aureus won a silver medal at the 2011 Chardonnay du Monde wine competition in France. Belje is a leading producer from the Baranja wine-growing (far northeastern Croatia), where among its expansive vineyard holdings is the esteemed 220 meter-above-sea-level, south-facing Goldberg appellation – home of its award winning Goldberg Chardonnay.

From Plešivica Korak Chardonnay is the benchmark beauty, and chardonnay forms 50% of the blend in Tomac’s iconic Anfora wine. If orange wine is your thing, Roxanich Milva chardonnay from Istria is fabulously elegant and complex with its creamy, mineral character and exotic fruit, floral, nut and honey notes.

Tomac Anfora (photo © 2012 by Cliff Rames)

Chardonnay is sometimes blended with other local grapes, like in Istria where it nicely compliments blends made with the local malvasia istriana (malvazija istarska) grape. Saints Hills Nevina, Matoševic Grimalda Bijelo, and Trapan Levante are a few prime examples.

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes at Krauthaker vineyards (© 2012 Cliff Rames)

Cabernet sauvignon? Check out the Podunavlje sub-region of Slavonia, whose terroir (long, warm growing season and ancient loam slopes along the Danube) delivers promising results. Iuris winery in the Erdut wine-growing hills produces a tasty, food-friendly entry-level cab from their vineyards on the Kraljevo Brdo (King’s Hill) appellation.

Agrolaguna Festigia (© 2012 by Cliff Rames)
Terra Rosa soils, Istria (© 2012 by Cliff Rames)

In Istria, iron-rich “terra rosa” soils lend nice structure and minerality to the region’s red wines (think the Coonawarra region of Australia); Agrolaguna (Festigia label), Coronica, Cossetto, Degrassi, Roxanich and Trapan all come to mind as producers who are banging out some really palate-worthy Istrian cabernet sauvignon. In southern Dalmatia, Dubrovački Podrumi (Dubrovnik Cellars) produces the benchmark southern climate cabernet, Trajectum, from its vineyards overlooking the Konavle valley just south of the tourist Mecca, Dubrovnik.

Merlot

Merlot? It’s just about everywhere, from Dalmatia to Istria to Slavonia. Sometimes it’s good (Agrolaguna Festigia); BIBICh Sangreal; Crvik; Frajona; Krauthaker; Roxanich); sometimes – not so much. Often it finds its best use in tasty Bordeaux blends, such as the excellent Dajla Cuvee Barrique from Istravino and the “Vrhunsko” 2007 red cab/merlot blend from Boškinac winery on Pag island.

 

 

Most famously, merlot (along with cabernet sauvignon and refosco) was a component in the Clai Ottocento 2007 Crno that Gary Vaynerchuk reviewed – and fell in love with – on Wine Library TV. You can see Gary’s reaction – and watch the whole wines of Croatia episode (above).

 

Cabernet Franc

Cabernet franc is sparsely-planted, but Moreno Degrassi in Istria produces a lovely version full of typical cab franc character (cherry and black fruits with a hint of tobacco and sweet herbs).

Pinot Noir (photo courtesy http://www.loirevalleywine.com)
Šember sparkling pinot (© 2012 by Cliff Rames)

That pinot noir (‘pinot crni”) is only grown in a few select spots in Croatia is testimony to the grape’s fickleness and outright hostility toward inappropriate terroirs. But a couple of producers have had some luck with it, notably Velimir Korak in Plešivica and Vlado Krauthaker in Kutjevo (from grapes grown on the upper slopes of Mt. Krndija). Back in cool Plešivica, Šember winery offers a delicate and refreshing 100% pinot noir sparkling wine that tingles with hibiscus and watermelon flavors laced with seashell minerality.

Syrah (Shiraz)

Syrah? It’s emerging in a select few locations in Croatia and is still very much in the experimental phase. Early results though indicate that the grape (syrah/shiraz) seems to enjoy Croatian hospitality. A growing area to watch is the Dalmatian hinterland around the coastal city Zadar, where Alen BIBICh produces his acclaimed Sangreal Shiraz and Benkovac winery cultivates 103 hectares of vines that spawned the award-winning 2007 Korlat Syrah.

Trapan 2007 Shuluq Syrah (photo courtesy http://vinopija.wordpress.com)

In Istria, Bruno Trapan has seriously invested in syrah and is hedging his bets that it will do well on his 5 hectares of vineyards located 50-55 meters above sea level at Šišana near Pula. Trapan 2007 Shuluq Syrah received a “Commended” rating in the Decanter 2010 World Wine Awards competition. That said, I suspect that the international marketability of Croatian syrah will face many challenges, especially in light of the recent – and sad – downturn in global demand for syrah.

Zinfandel grapes on Peljesac (© 2012 Cliff Rames)

Let’s not forget Zinfandel. Technically, Zinfandel is a native Croatian variety called Crljenak Kaštelanski and its story and genetic links to Croatia have been widely documented. But because some Croatian producers are preparing to release wines labeled as “Zinfandel”, we will briefly mention it here. Zinfandel (aka Crljenak) is native to the Kaštela region of central Dalmatia, near the city of Split. Further south on the Pelješac peninsula, well-respected producer, Marija Mrgudić of Bura-Mugudić winery, planted Napa clones and is preparing for the first release of Croatian Zinfandel. Although the jury is still out on whether this grape can deliver as much potential as plavac mali (the variety that historically supplanted it) – or if American zinfandel producers will oppose the use of the “Zinfandel” moniker on labels from Croatia – it is an interesting development and can only help draw positive attention to Croatia’s winemaking culture.

Sauvignon Blanc
Riesling

Sauvignon blanc? Riesling? Pinot gris? Pinot blanc? All are planted in Croatia (where they are known as “sauvignon”, “rajnski rizling”, “pinot sivi”, and “pinot bijeli” respectively) and have a long history of being consumed locally as table wines, particularly in the cool continental regions. But a number of producers have invested in vineyard and cellar in order to improve quality and raise the profile of these varieties – especially sauvignon blanc and riesling. A very promising producer is Bolfan in the Zlatar wine-growing hills of the Međimurje–Zagorje region. The Bolfan portfolio includes some very intriguing, pure and refreshing whites across all styles (dry to sweet) from an array of grapes grown on its 20 hectares of stunningly beautiful “Vinski vrh” (Wine Summit) vineyards; the Bolfan ’08 Riesling Primus is drinking beautifully now with an off-dry, richly extracted profile of golden apples, pears and honey with hints of petrol and wet stone minerality. Tasty!

Bolfan wines (© 2012 Cliff Rames)

For sauvignon blanc, watch for the award-winning Badel 1862 Sauvignon Daruvar and Zdjelarević Sauvignon from Slavonia. Not surprisingly, sauvignon blanc seems to have found its sweetest spot in the Plešivica area with its cool, moist and sunny slopes that grace the bowl of the area’s naturally-formed amphitheater. There Korak, Šember and Tomac  produce crisp, lovely citrus and herbal examples.

Gewürztraminer in Kutjevo (© 2012 Cliff Rames)

Gewürztraminer (“traminac”) does very well in the far-eastern corners of the Slavonia and Podunavlje regions, where it is made into everything from dry, spicy whites to unctuous, richly floral and delicious late harvest and ice wines. Iločki Podrumi is a leading producer in the Srijem wine-growing hills and in certain frosty years Kutjevo winery and Iločki podrumi make a luscious Ice Wine (“Ledeno vino”) from the variety.

Iločki Podrumi Traminac Ice Wine
Iločki Podrumi "Ledeno vino" (© 2012 Cliff Rames)

So yes…wines made from familiar international varieties can be found in Croatia – and to a lesser extent on export markets.

That said, international varieties are not the future of Croatian winemaking or marketing program. The “Golden Promise” (I would argue) lies in Croatia’s rich array of indigenous grape varieties. Their individual stories are screaming to be told and are sure to pique intrigue among – and stimulate the palates of – savvy foreign wine buyers and adventurous consumers.

Ray Isle, Food & Wine magazine’s executive wine editor, recently presented “Five Grapes to Expand Your Wine Horizons” in an article for CNN’s Eatocracy blog. Unfortunately none of the grapes he mentioned was from Croatia (the list did include blaufrankisch, known in Croatia as frankovka). The point is, wine drinkers who seek the magic of discovery must look beyond mainstream varieties and venture into uncharted territory: The land of native grapes with charming, sometimes tongue-twisting names.

Once blessed with over 400 indigenous grape varieties, the Croatian Ministry of Agriculture’s official list of cultivars today contains 192 varieties, of which 130 are considered autochthonous (indigenous) to Croatia or the region. Of that number, only three dozen or so are commonly found in modern commercial wines. The “Big Three” of course are graševina, malvasia istriana, and plavac mali, which are – in descending order – the most widely planted wine grape varieties in Croatia.

In our next post we will introduce the “Big Three” – and go beyond, presenting you with the “Magnificent Seven”, a fabulous handful of Croatian wine grapes that you should know. These varieties were selected based on their commonality, the quality of the wine they produce, and their accessibility and presence on both the domestic and export markets.

For fans of even lesser-know varieties, fear not. We will subsequently venture beyond the Magnificent Seven and explore a gaggle of other quirky, interesting and uniquely Croatian grape varieties that did not make the first round. Stay tuned to meet the whole gang – the wild and wonderful Grapes of Croatia! 🙂

“Croatian Wine Story” DVD Now Available in North America

 

Just in time for the holidays! Wines of Croatia is proud to offer for sale – exclusively and for the first-time ever in North America – the beautifully filmed and informative Croatian Wine Story (“Hrvatska Vinska Priča – Putevima Vina”) DVD.

The 115-minute film, directed by Miroslav Mirković and produced by Mandrak Productions, takes us on an eye-opening journey through some of Croatia’s most stunningly beautiful wine regions, including Baranja, the Croatian Littoral, north and south Dalmatia, the Dalmatian Hinterland, Istria, Moslavina, Plešivica, Slavonija, Srijem, and Zagorje-Međimurje.

 

Your guides on this journey are Franjo Francem, a well-known Croatian enologist, and Nataša Puhelek, the reigning “Croatian Wine Queen”. Together they will take you on a four-season trip throughCroatia, where you will visit some of the country’s leading wineries. From the first bud break all the way to harvest (and ice wine harvest!) you will have an armchair view of the life in the vineyards ofCroatiaand a sneak peek behindCroatia’s unique “wine story”.

For a glimpse of the scenery that awaits you in this film, check out this trailer:

 

 

Wineries featured in the film include: Agrolaguna; Belje; Benkovac (Badel 1862); Coronica; Vinarija Daruvar (Badel 1862); Vinarija Dingač, (Badel 1862); Đakovačka vina d.d. (Misna Vina); Enjingi; Gerštmajer; Grabovac; Iločki Podrumi; Istravino; Jakopić; Kabola; Katunar; Krauthaker; Kutjevo dd; Miklaužić; Mladina; Petrovečki; Skaramuča; Tomac; Vinoplod; PZ Vrbnik; Zdjelarević; and Zlatan Otok.

The film contains 31 chapters and is presented in the Croatian language with optional English or Slovenian subtitles available.

 

Important Note: The film is only available in PAL format (Region 2), which can be played on most computer-based DVD players and multi-format home DVD players. Unfortunately it cannot be played on standard NTSC-formatted (Region 1) DVD players. We tested the DVD on several computers, and it played perfectly each time.

To order your DVD in time for the holidays, please contact us at crames@winesofcroatia.com.

Quantities are limited! The special introductory/holiday price per DVD is $20 USD, plus $6 USPS Priority Shipping (Total = $26) to most U.S. addresses.   For addresses outside the U.S.,  please email us for the shipping price.

Payment should be made via Paypal to the email address crames@winesofcroatia.com. Please contact us for more details, if you have any questions, or if you would prefer to pay by check or money order. Sorry – we cannot accept credit cards at this time.

We think that you – or your favorite Croatian wino – will really enjoy this film, so order your copy now, pop open your favorite Croatian wine, and begin your journey down the wine roads of Croatia from the comfort of your own home.

Happy Holidays!

Documenting History: The First Wines of Croatia Grand Tasting in NYC

(While this in fairly old news now, for the sake of posterity and future curious minds – and anyone who might have missed it all – here is a recap of the Wines of Croatia Grand Portfolio Tasting event in New York City back in June, along with two videos of the festivities.  It was a great day, one that we hope to repeat next year and on in other locations. Stay tuned – and enjoy this look back in time.)

On June 13, 2011, Wines of Croatia – in partnership with the Association of Winemakers at the Croatian Chamber of Economy (Hrvatska Gospodarska Komora) and the Consulate General of the Republic of Croatia in New York – held the first-ever Grand Portfolio Tasting of the country’s top wines.

The event, held at Hudson Terrace in New York City, was attended by 120 sommeliers, wine buyers, journalists, bloggers and other trade personnel.

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Copyright All rights reserved by Hanna Lee Communications, Inc.
Copyright All rights reserved by Hanna Lee Communications, Inc.

At this historic invitation-only tasting, nearly a dozen producers from Croatia’s leading boutique wineries poured their terroir-specific wines from the continental and coastal regions of Croatia.

Guests of the Grand Tasting were treated to wines produced from an array of indigenous grape varieties, including Malvasia Istriana, Pošip, Teran, Plavac Mali, Graševina, Malvasia of Dubrovnik, Babić, Debit, Crljenak Kaštelanski, and Žlahtina, as well as international varieties like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling.

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Copyright All rights reserved by Hanna Lee Communications, Inc.

Prior to the rooftop walk-around tasting, an educational seminar was conducted by Certified Sommelier and Wines of Croatia founder, Cliff Rames. Guest speakers at the seminar included Joe Campanale, sommelier and co-owner of Anfora Wine Bar in New York City, and winemaker Ivica Matošević.

The seminar, with Cliff Rames (Copyright All rights reserved by Hanna Lee Communications, Inc.)
Joe Campanale (Copyright All rights reserved by Hanna Lee Communications, Inc.)
Ivica Matosevic (Copyright All rights reserved by Hanna Lee Communications, Inc.)
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Here is a really cool video documenting the day’s events:

 

Winemakers in attendance included Boris Drenški of Bodren winery; Bruno Trapan of Trapan winery; Ernest Tolj of Saints Hills winery; Franjo Toljanić of Toljanic winery; Ivica Matošević of Matosevic winery; Ivan and Klemetina Juranić of Nada winery; Katharine Anderson Groethe of Korta Katarina winery; and Mladen Rožanić of Roxanich winery.

Mladen Rozanic (Copyright All rights reserved by Hanna Lee Communications, Inc.)
Frano Toljanic (Copyright All rights reserved by Hanna Lee Communications, Inc.)
Bruno Trapan (Copyright All rights reserved by Hanna Lee Communications, Inc.)
Ernest Tolj (Copyright All rights reserved by Hanna Lee Communications, Inc.)
Moreno Degrassi (Copyright All rights reserved by Hanna Lee Communications, Inc.)
Boris Drenski (Bodren) (Copyright All rights reserved by Hanna Lee Communications, Inc.)

Here is the full list of wineries represented at the Grand Tasting: Agrokor vina, Badel 1862, Bibich, Bodren, Bura-Mokalo, Cattunar, Coronica, Degrassi, Enjingi, Grgić, Antun Katunar, Ivan Katunar, Karaman, Katunar, Korta Katarina, Kozlović, Krajančić, Krauthaker, Matošević, Miloš, Nada, Pavlomir, Piližota, Piquentum, PZ Čara, PZ Dingač, PZ Gospoja, PZ Putnikovići, PZ Svirče, PZ Vrbnik, Roxanich, Saints Hills, Šipun, Terzolo, Tomić, Trapan, and Zlatan Otok.

Other exhibitors and special guests included Siniša Škaberna of Degrassi winery; Anthony Ritossa of Ritossa Olive Oil ; and Simon Kerr and Šime Gligora of Sirana Gligora (producer of Paški cheese), and representatives of Blue Danube Wine Company, Dalmata Import, Oenocentric, Tasty Wine Company, Vallis Aurea, and VinumUSA (importers).

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Representatives of the Croatia Chamber of Economy included Davor Komerički, Morana Stinčić, Igor Barbarić, Ivona Grgan, and Božica Marković. Representing the Consulate General of the Republic of Croatia in New York and joining us as honorary guest was Consul General, Marijan Gubić.

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To salute Croatia’s status as a truffle-producing nation, a noted truffle hunter from Tartufino was also on hand to discuss Croatia’s deep historic connection with truffles from the Istria region.

To showcase the versatility of Croatia’s wines, chefs from Veslo restaurant, Ditch Plains, and Luke’s Lobster prepared fresh delicacies and finger foods.

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Copyright All rights reserved by Hanna Lee Communications, Inc.

Here’s a link to one more (less refined) video from StyleMTV with extended play of the day’s action.

And here’s a couple more links to some coverage:

Croatian Chronicle: Wines of Croatia First Ever Grand Portfolio Tasting  

A Winestory: Wines of Croatia First Ever Grand Portfolio Tasting

The Wine Hub: The Croatian Wine Invasion

Beverage Media, August 2011 Issue, Page 72

A HUGE thank you to everyone who joined us on June 13. We look forward to doing it again and sharing more of these wines with you!

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Hanna Lee Communications handled the event management and public relations for the Grand Tasting. A big thank you and BRAVO to Hanna and her team!

Davor Komericki, Marijan Gubic, Hanna Lee, Cliff Rames
Copyright All rights reserved by Hanna Lee Communications, Inc.

A Heavyweight among Champions: Agrokor Joins Vinistra

May 12, 2011 – Poreč, Croatia

The world evolves and time changes everything.

And so it was today when Agrokor, one of the largest producers of wine in Croatia, officially joined the ranks of Vinistra (the Association of Winegrowers & Winemakers of Istria). To be more precise, Agrolaguna, a subsidiary in the large web of winery holdings owned by Agrokor, became the 119th member of Vinistra.

Based in Poreč, a historic seaside town in the Istria wine-growing region of Croatia, Agrolaguna currently manages 520 hectares of vineyards and a wine portfolio that includes the “Laguna Histria” label and the award-winning “Festiga” brand.  

(photo by Cliff Rames)

Put in perspective, it could be said that Agrolaguna is the elephant in the room, although that analogy applies only when you are in Croatia. When one takes into account that the vast majority of Vinistra’s members are small family wineries, Agrolaguna is like Gulliver at the Court of Lilliput. But to the outside world, the firm is relatively small, producing not millions of bottles but a few hundred thousand, perhaps.

Waiting for the ceremonies to begin. (photo by Cliff Rames)

 Nonetheless, Agrolaguna’s entry into Vinistra is big news, politically and economically. The mother company, Agrokor, has tremendous resources and a keen desire to be a serious player on the Croatian team of wineries. Over the past few years, it has invested heavily in advanced winery technology, vineyards, redesigned packaging, and new marketing strategies. It has engaged high-profile international consultants to help repackage its image from that of a factory winery to a producer of quality, accessible and value-driven wines that retain a true sense of place. 

(photo courtesy of VinMedia)

Signing the agreement were Vinistra president and spokesperson, Ivica Matošević, and Agrolaguna Director, Goran Kramarić. Matošević spoke briefly, providing a short history of its activities and events leading up to the agreement, signed on the eve of the 18th annual Vinistra wine expo.

“Agrolaguna’s membership in Vinistra is a huge step forward for Istrian and Croatian wine”, stated Matošević. “Vinistra’s acceptance of Agrolaguna’s membership request demonstrates that all of our winery members are united as equal players, whether they are small or large producers. Only in this way can we have the strength and resources to compete and achieve positive results in the international market”. 

(photo by Cliff Rames)

Kramarić spoke of Agrolaguna’s long relationship with Vinistra and its ongoing cooperation to advance the image and success of the Istrian wine brand.

“This agreement opens a door that leads to new opportunities for intensive cooperation to strengthen and support export initiatives, continued development of our wine roads and wine tourism, and joint participation in future events and exhibitions”, said Kramarić.

Arriving by helicopter that landed in a field behind the Agrolaguna winery in Poreč, Agrokor president Ivica Todorić presided over the ceremonies and was visibly pleased with the proceedings.

Ivica Todorić (photo by Cliff Rames)

“Our cooperation with Vinistra did not begin with the signature on this agreement today”, he said. “It is, however, evidence of our commitment to continue our partnership and desire to achieve our common goal to promote Istrian wine at home and abroad”.

“Agrokor invested a large sum of money to improve its brand and raise the quality of its wines. With that, we intend to lead the way forward and have a positive effect on the future of the market”, added Todorić.

“We appreciate and value the tremendous achievements that Ivica and his team have accomplished in the name of creating an Istrian brand”, said Todorić. “All this was done with the noble purpose of promoting Istria as a wine region, elevating the quality of Istrian wine, and celebrating the Istrian way of life. For this reason, I am extremely satisfied to sign this agreement today and formally join the members of Vinistra and move forward towards our common goals”.

(photo courtesy of VinMedia)

The formal speeches concluded with a startling but charming admission from the Župan (head administrator) of Istria County, Ivan Jakovčić: “About 10 years ago, I said in an interview that Malvazija Istarska, in my opinion, can never be a world-class wine. I stand here before you today to confess my mistake. I know now and can say with all certainty: Malvazija can be a world-class wine. And it is with great satisfaction that I witness the signing of this agreement today. In it, I see the future”.

Agrolaguna's tasting room (photo by Cliff Rames)

The signing ceremony and press conference were held in the nicely appointed tasting room at the Agrolaguna facility in Poreč and was followed by a lunch that few cynics could dismiss: plump and sweet shellfish roasted to perfection in large scallop shells, as well as local specialties perfectly paired with Agrolaguna wines.

It was a convincing display of haute cuisine and wine showmanship. Agrokor seemed to be sending a message to all in attendance that said: “We have arrived. Make no mistake. We are in this to win”.

Clearly the winners are all members of Vinistra, heavyweights and lightweights equally, and by extension – all Croatian wine producers. The model for cooperation among wineries and vision for success set forth by Ivica Matošević and his team at Vinistra are a guiding light that can – and should – show the way forward for all winemakers from every wine-producing region in Croatia. 

A Waltz through Wines of Croatia History: A Tweet Heard by No One

Text by Cliff Rames, © 2011

Some of the greatest vineyards on the planet were once just humble fields or plots of undeveloped land, fallow and overgrown with brush, or planted with generic crops or fruit trees. Others were once cattle ranches or sheep pastures, moonscapes or volcano slopes.

Moonscape (photo by Cliff Rames)

It takes an open mind, some vision, a willingness to dream, and the stamina to work hard (as well as the capacity to risk much) for a person to be able to look at a parched and barren scrape of dessert, an overgrown plot of scrub brush, or a steep, craggy hillside and say: I can make great wine here.

(photo by Cliff Rames)

While I didn’t realize it at the time, I first cast eyes over the landscape of my future “vineyard” in 1989, when I was an exchange student at the University of Zagreb in the capital city of Croatia. That landscape emitted subliminal messages in the form of little voices that whispered, “Something is going on here; you should pay attention; this is where you need to be”.

Being young and crazy at the time, I heard the message but didn’t think much of it. There was too many other things going on, places to go, people to meet….

Nonetheless it stuck with me and quietly influenced the paths I chose that would eventually lead me to the Promised Land, that place in mind and soul where suddenly everything makes sense. Call it a vineyard.

Okay, I’m not really talking about a real vineyard (at least not yet). The vineyard I refer to is a metaphorical one: it’s a fertile idea. More practically, it’s a project that started out as a single tweet on Twitter – sent out to no one.

Somehow through the mysteries of social networking, that single seed in the form of a tweet (a “tweed”?) has since grown, spread, and wrapped its tendrils around many trellises in the virtual vineyard. Its clusters of fruit symbolize the final product, the idea-made-real. You know it as Wines of Croatia.

Within that tight cluster are many juicy berries, individual parts of one whole. One berry is this blog. Others include the Wines of Croatia Facebook page, Twitter page, and soon-to-be-launched website.

This metaphorical vineyard is heavy work. But it is a labor of love, born out of discovery, nurtured by the collective family of friends and followers (you!), and propelled forward with anticipation and excitement for each new virtual – and real – vintage.

Yes, its seeds were cast upon the fertile land at a time before I knew anything about vineyards or wine. But as is often the case with farming, you learn as you go, pressing out small bits of knowledge and wisdom from nature, the land, and the wine (as well as many books, classes and visits to real vineyards and winemakers).

(photo by Cliff Rames)

It all began one cool, autumn evening in Zagreb, circa 1989. I was sitting in an outdoor pizzeria (which featured amazingly aromatic wood-fired oven pizzas) with a few other American exchange students. While we each came from widely scattered parts of the United States, our little group shared a common purpose: we were all in Croatia (it was still part of Yugoslavia at the time) as part of a program to learn the Croatian language, culture, political life and history.

But that evening – and in many days and nights afterward – I learned something that was not part of my college syllabus: the joys and wonders of Croatian wines.

(photo by Cliff Rames)

As it happened, my hungry companions that evening noticed my fascination and interest in the local wines and appointed me czar of the wine list and asked me to order our dinner bottle. After a few minutes of pretending that I knew what I was doing, I randomly chose a wine called “Laguna”, a 1986 Merlot from the Istria region along the north coast of Croatia (it had a different label back then, a black one I think).

At the time I knew nothing about the producer (Laguna is presently owned by Agrokor Vina, a conglomerate that produces a wide array of decent and fairly accessible wines) or whether or not this particular wine was well-regarded by “critics”. All I knew that evening was the wine rocked my world.

Unlike some of the astringent, undrinkable and cheap plonk I had come to know – and wreck my stomach with – in college, the Laguna Merlot was so soft, smooth and sultry, with a distinctive sweet black fruit and earthy quality. In my memory, I recall that it was a lighter-style Merlot, translucent and garnet – not opaquely purple like many contemporary Merlot wines.

The pizzeria we were sitting in was one of the best at the time, and I’m sure the pizza was awesome, but I don’t remember it at all. The wine had my full attention. Transfixed by it, I couldn’t get enough. The little specks of sediment at the bottom of my glass fascinated me and added allure, convincing me it was not just another industrial wine but was perhaps a “natural wine” – unfiltered and unadulterated.

(photo courtesy of http://www.moja-kuhinja.com)

Was the wine great? Did it deserve impressive scores and flowery tasting notes? I can’t say. It doesn’t really matter now. To my young and admittedly naïve palate, it was delicious, seductive, memorable, and transformative (and a hit with the group, too).

(photo by Cliff Rames)

It can often take a decade or more to plant and nurture a vineyard to the point where the vines are ready to give juice that is worthy of wine. In my case, it would be another 17 years before I became certified as a sommelier and another three years before I sent out the first lonely Wines of Croatia tweet.  

But wine is a product of patience. What matters to me is this: that evening at the Zagreb pizzeria I became a changed person. My eyes (and palate) were forever opened to the magic and romance of wine.

The landscape of my future vineyard called out. Eventually I listened – and started to dream.

ProWein 2011 Gets a Taste of 150 Wines from Croatia

From March 27-29, 2011, the wine world was focused on Düsseldorf, Germany, site of one of Europe’s most important wine festivals: ProWein.

 

According to the organizers of the festival, ProWein 2011 was attended by over 3,600 exhibitors from some 50 countries. Attendance reached 38,000 – a 5% increase over 2010.

The organizers also noted an increase in the number of international guests, primarily from Great Britain, Scandinavia, the USA and Canada, as well as Eastern Europe – especially Russia, the Czech Republic and the Baltic states. The festival also saw an increase in the number of visitors from Asia – most notably China, Thailand and Hong Kong. Festival organizers reported that over 80% of visitors were individuals who are directly involved in purchasing decisions (Source: Visitor Survey at ProWein 2011.)

Photo courtesy of Vinolab d.o.o.

For the 5th consecutive year, Croatian winemakers were among the international exhibitors, with 25 of the most important wineries in Croatia participating, collectively representing more than 150 wines.

Croatia’s participation in this year’s ProWein fair was sponsored by the Croatian Chamber of Economy (HGK), in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Rural Development (MPRRR).

Photo courtesy of http://www.nacional.hr

With total space of 95 square meters, the Wines of Croatia booth was the focus of much attention, as trade professionals stopped by to investigate and taste the wines of Agrokor-Vina, Arman, Badel 1862, Capo, Cattunar, De Georgiis, Feravino, Jako Vino, Kabola, Kalazić, Korta Katherina, Krauthaker, Kutjevački Podrum, Lagradi, OPG Božo Bačić, OPG Šime Škaulj, Roxanich, Saints Hills, Suha Punta, Trapan, Veralda, Matošević, Vinski Vrh, Vinoplod, and the University of Zadar.

Photo courtesy of Vinolab d.o.o.

“This fair is of great importance to Croatian wineries, because it is an opportunity to present the wines of Croatia to an international audience”, said Rajko Ružička, Assistant to the Director of the Office Agriculture, Food and Forestry at the HGK.

“We hope that our presence at the fair will help to increase exports of Croatian wines, especially in regard to Germany, which at 600,000 liters annually makes it the second largest foreign market, after Bosnia-Herzegovina. That is why the HGK and MPRRR support Croatian wineries at international festivals like this, because it is critical to effectively present and position Croatian wines in potentially interested foreign markets.”   

Photo courtesy of Vinolab d.o.o.

Due to the large volume of business conducted during the festival and shear number of journalists present, ProWein is an opportunity that under no circumstances should be missed, said Saša Špiranec, Chairman of the Association of Croatian Wineries Festival Committee at the Croatian Chamber of Economy (HGK).  

Saša Špiranec

“ProWein is the starting point of marketing activities of our new association, whose primary mission is to raise awareness among the wine consuming public about the wines of Croatia. The task of branding Croatian wine includes many promotional tools – including specialized fairs like ProWein”, said Špiranec.

Đuro Horvat (Photo courtesy of http://www.liderpress.hr)

 Đuro Horvat, president of the Association of Croatian Wineries at HGK, added that Croatian winemakers regard the creation of a strong Croatian wine brand – one that showcases the excellent quality and originality of the wines – as crucial for the export market.

“Export trends from year to year indicate movement towards high quality wines from premium categories. That is why this festival is important as an opportunity to establish business contacts and ultimately increase wine exports through new sales,” said Horvat.

 

“Croatian wines are growing more and more interesting to international consumers and markets, who are increasingly seeking out wines of origin produced from indigenous grapes. This is especially true in more developed markets, such as Germany and Great Britain, where the rate of wine consumption is growing and the market is saturated with the most popular international varieties,” added Horvat.

Across six pavilions, visitors to ProWein were treated to a comprehensive snapshot of the world wine market and a selection of thousands of wines to taste. ProWein is an important bellwether of emerging trends and a showcase for new products and services, as well as an ideal venue for networking between visitors, producers, exhibitors, distributors and the media.

photo by Rene Tillmann / Messe Duesseldorf

Summing up the positive results of ProWein 2011, Hans Werner Reinhard, Deputy Managing Director at Messe Düsseldorf, said: “We are delighted with an extremely successful event! Our positive expectations were even exceeded. ProWein 2011 went splendidly. ProWein was impressively able to underline its status as the leading international fair measured by all key performance indicators. It brings the supply and demand sides of the wine and spirits market together at an international level in a uniquely professional atmosphere and it is the perfect meeting point for the sector to showcase trends and innovations, to discover and discuss.”

Next year’s ProWein event is scheduled for March 4-6, 2012 in Düsseldorf.

 

[Sources: Nacional.hr article (in Croatian), published on March 28, 2011; ProWein press release, published March 29, 2011]